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How to Become a Personal Trainer


Nichole Sargent has been a personal trainer for the past four years, although she has worked as a fitness instructor for more than 13 years. She has taught a variety of class formats. Her favorites include ZUMBA®, strength conditioning, indoor cycling, fitness yoga, and boot camp. Nichole enjoys the diversity of teaching different formats and populations in both group fitness and personal training sessions. She is also an avid runner with a special interest in full marathons and sprint triathlons. She is active in her community and currently volunteers as a coach for a kids' running group. Through this involvement, she hopes to help families create healthy lifetime habits, which result in better health and improved quality of life. 

Nichole finds it truly rewarding to train clients and see them progress to their highest potential, whether that means feeling successful in fitness classes, improving functional range of motion, training for an event, or successful weight loss/health maintenance. She hopes to convince people that exercise can be fun, and will leave you feeling refreshed, renewed, and happy. Nichole's favorite workout mantra is, "Better Health, Better Life!"

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What is a personal trainer?

A personal trainer is a fitness coach with certification (hopefully national certification) and experience to guide clients toward achieving their healthy lifestyle goals.

Why did you decide to become a personal trainer?

I come from a family with early onset heart disease. My father had his first heart attack at age 50, followed by a second heart attack and angioplasty a month later. Most of his brothers and sisters have heart disease -- a few have also had early-age heart attacks. This family history led me to a very active lifestyle. Later married to a family physician, and leading an active lifestyle, I realized that I could have a positive impact on the health of others by teaching fitness. After many years of successfully leading packed group exercise classes and witnessing the healthy changes taking place among my participants, it seemed a logical progression to gain further certification and become a personal trainer.

Are there common misconceptions about your profession?

Many people I meet think trainers are supplement pushers or salesman. Though some trainers take the path of supplement sales, I think most trainers do what they do out of a passion for healthy living and the desire to pass that passion on to others. Most trainers I know get the greatest satisfaction out of seeing their clients succeed in their healthy goals.

What is a typical day like for you?

As a part-time trainer (I'm also a full-time stay-at-home mom of two very active boys!), my days vary. I teach fitness classes as an employee at Harbor Square Athletic Club (I teach a variety of formats to include boot camp, conditioning, cycling, Zumba, sculpting, etc), a contracted instructor with Edmonds Parks & Rec (teaching Zumba & outdoor boot camp), and with private/small group clients in their home or mine, and volunteering at a local school as the cross country running coach.

Training involves planning, programming sessions, motivation/accountability (emails, Facebook, texts, blogs, newsletters, etc), coaching sessions with clients, accounting (invoicing, banking, mileage reports, sales tax reports, etc).

I usually work about two hours per day, five days a week (client time), as well as approximately four hours per week on planning/administrative time.

What are your favorite aspects of your job?

Seeing someone succeed at their goal(s) bring me great joy. I value each client I have -- getting to know them, mentoring them, and watching them progress is very rewarding.

What are your least favorite aspects of your job?

PAPERWORK! TAXES! You have to be very organized, keep great records, and have a plan for getting/keeping business when you are training away from a gym.

Is there anything you would have done differently while studying to become a personal trainer?

No. I studied independently through American Council on Exercise; their study materials, guidance, and testing were outstanding. I was also working as a fitness instructor at the time, and had the opportunity to get hands-on training in the gym where I worked. I think practical training is just as important as the textbook learning!

What classes did you take in college that are the most relevant to your job?

I was a sociology major at the University of Washington. Dealing with people and sociology sort of go hand in hand. Other than that, I missed the boat in terms of my major and what I ended up doing!

What personality traits do you think would help someone to be successful as a personal trainer?

Being a great listener is key. You have to really hear what people are saying, be able to reiterate that, and then reinforce it with a solid training plan. Being genuine, being prepared and organized, and staying on top of all the most current research is a must. You have to be willing to admit when you don't know something, and either research it for an answer, or refer out to someone else. Being warm, fun, and positive is what keeps clients coming back.

What personality traits do you think might hinder someone's success as a personal trainer?

Talking more than listening is a real mistake. Dictating what to do, without buy-in from your client will lead to failure. Pitching products and/or services to make more money, rather than focusing on clients’ real needs, will have clients running for the hills.

What advice, or words of caution, would you give to a student who is considering studying to become a personal trainer?

Get a great national certification first. American Council on Exercise and ACSM are considered the best in the industry. Keep up with your continuing education -- staying current will allow you to maintain an excellent reputation in your field. Seek out mentors to guide you at every step of your career. Practice on friends and family first (they will be honest with feedback)! Be ready for the unpaid time that's required. Prep time, bookkeeping, etc. takes time, and you don't get paid for it. Be passionate about health/wellness and genuine with clients. Have fun and enjoy what you do. Stay within your scope of practice -- trainers are not registered dietitians, physicians, or physical therapists -- know when to refer out, and have a great referral list ready to go (they will undoubtedly refer back to you!).

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